Scouting Report: Artur Beterbiev vs Callum Smith

 | January 09 | 

5 mins read

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Callum Smith is facing an incredible challenge this weekend as he takes on WBC, IBF and WBO light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev. The fact the fight takes place in Canada, where the Russian-born champion is a citizen, makes the task all the more daunting.

Artur Beterbiev vs Callum Smith Tips

  • Callum Smith to win @ 18/5

But is this light heavyweight title fight really such an impossible job for Smith? There are signs in Beterbiev’s game that point to a decline in his abilities. Meanwhile, Smith has shown the kind of form recently that indicates he could be the man to exploit those weaknesses.

Beterbeiv is 19-0 with 19 knockouts. It is a record that rightly strikes fear in opponents. But in two of his last three fights, Beterbiev may have inadvertently disclosed the blueprint to beat him. His 2022 destruction of Joe Smith Jr was as straightforward as it gets, with the Russian-Canadian pounding the WBO champion to a quick defeat. But his fights with Marcus Browne and Anthony Yarde either side of this swift win tell their own tale.

Firstly, Marcus Browne. The New Yorker made the trip to Beterbiev’s Montreal home base for his 2021 title bout. The fight will be remembered for a clash of heads in round four that left the champion gushing blood. What is less reported is the opening two stanzas, where Browne kept Beterbiev off-balance with movement and speed. 

The challenger was a difficult target to pin down in the early going and frustration was evident in Beterbiev’s corner between sessions. In round three, he began to find range, but even then the shots were seldom clean. The cut would spur Beterbiev into action and he admitted in the aftermath it caused him to relentlessly pursue the knockout. But had the laceration not occurred, how long would Browne’s fine rhythm have been allowed to persist?

Anthony Yarde didn’t need a cut to give Beterbiev one of his toughest fights. The Londoner entered as a considerable underdog, but for the majority of the fight he boxed on even terms with Beterbiev. Like Browne, movement was key to his success. Unlike Browne, and to his immense credit, Yarde was able to stand in the pocket and get hard shots off which bothered the champion.

Beterbiev would secure the stoppage in the eighth round, but he took a lot of leather in doing so. When you compare the Browne and Yarde fights to earlier outings, the 38-year-old has lost his in-and-out speed. He stays in the pocket for longer, often having to take bruising punishment in order to dish some out. 

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This has been a feature of his game in the past. Against Britain’s Callum Johnson in 2018, his love of a tear-up saw him knocked down. On that occasion, Beterbiev recalibrated and destroyed his foe. But getting caught with hard shots is no longer the aberration it was in 2018. Beterbiev eats a lot of leather these days.

Smith is adept at dispensing that leather. ‘Mundo’ moved up to light heavyweight in the wake of losing his WBA super middleweight title to Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in 2020. Since arriving at 175lbs, Smith has scored a second-round stoppage of Lenin Castillo and a fourth-round knockout of Mathieu Bauderlique. After garnering 19 knockouts from 27 outings at super middleweight, Smith seems to have grown into his new weight and seen his punch power unleashed.

Against Bauderlique in particular, Smith showed the sort of combination punching that Beterbiev has struggled with. Yarde put hard shots to head and body together in the same way Smith did against the Frenchmen. Smith did so from centre-ring, which may give Artur a way in. The Russian-Canadian likes to control the space and is usually troubled by movement. We could see a real tear-up here as Smith is another fighter who likes to command the squared circle.

‘Canelo’ showed what happens when you don’t let Callum have that luxury. The Mexican bullied Smith backwards into the ropes and peppered him with shots along the strands. But it should be said that Alvarez has far faster hands than this iteration of Beterbiev. The champion has slowed with age meaning, if Smith can take his power, he should out-do him for speed while packing a wallop of his own.

Against Castillo, Smith showed two weapons that could stand him in good stead here. A piercing jab, something that could exploit Beterbiev’s lack of head movement. ‘Mundo’ also showed one-punch knockout power, setting punishing rights up off that strong left-hand lead. We have seen Beterbiev hit the canvas before. If anyone can put him there in the current light heavyweight landscape, it is Smith.

Power always settles Beterbiev fights. Even in bouts where he hasn’t boxed well, the unified light heavyweight champion will find the punches needed to add to his flawless knockout record. But the evidence is there that the reflexes are slowing. He is taking more punishment in order to dish out his own. Smith has shown he can be a devastating puncher at the weight. Perhaps the Liverpudlian will be the one to finally crack Beterbiev. Smith knows exactly where to find him. Beterbiev doesn’t make himself a difficult target. But he is among the toughest men in the sport. A difficult night for Smith, but not an impossible job by any means.

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